PLAY FOR TODAY: VIDEO GAMES / AARON BURGESS

 

Column #12: Medal of Honor, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Plus a look at the ZigZag Tower for Xbox. Incidentally, don’t miss the debut of “Play For Today – The Print Version” in the Fall 2010 issue of BLURT, on newsstands now.

 

By Aaron Burgess

 

Medal Of Honor

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Developers: Danger Close/DICE / Publisher: EA

ESRB Rating: M

 

This year’s Medal Of Honor arrives with some contentious, if publicity-boosting, baggage to go along with its dog tags and bullet holes. Set in present-day Afghanistan, the game is the first title in the 11-year series to drop you into the middle of an active conflict-where, controversially, you can play as either an Afghan insurgent or the game’s real hero, a U.S. Tier 1 special operative.

 

Typically, much of the hoopla around Medal Of Honor 2010 comes from outside of gaming circles. Spend a few hours actually playing the first-person shooter, and you realize there’s no attempt to radicalize at work here. Regardless of whether you enter Medal Of Honor as G.I. Joe or as Taliban Sam (though, thanks to a last-minute change, EA has stripped out the “T” word), the game is at heart a classic good guys/bad guys affair.

 

Medal Of Honor‘s taut, tense single-player campaign slips you into the boots of a U.S. soldier in the middle of Operation Enduring Freedom. Though it’s a relatively quick play, the campaign keeps you engaged through rich level design and some of the most vivid-and disturbingly realistic-audio you’ll ever hear in a military game. (Indeed, the game was developed with input from real U.S. combat forces.) Similar in feel to its closest competitor, Modern Warfare 2, the game winds from Afghanistan’s craggy hills to the cockpit of an AH-64 Apache helicopter, where your tasks range from surgical assaults to hammer-crushing blows against an enemy whose biggest weapon is its unpredictability.

 

 

Tension and playability both increase in MOH’s excellent online multiplayer mode,  which supports up to 24 players across both Tier 1 and Taliban (or, as the name has been sanitized, “opposition”) forces. As in real-life combat, teamwork is everything here-so while you can boost your own ranking and abilities by taking out enemy soldiers or performing medal-worthy feats of courage, none of this stuff will matter if you lead your friends into an ambush or sniper attack.

 

Medal Of Honor lands amid some tough FPS competition-the aforementioned Modern Warfare 2 on one end; the new Halo: Reach on the other.  But for those who prefer their military action raw, rugged and unflinchingly realistic, this is one operation that truly endures.

 

Rating: 8/10

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light

Platform: Nintendo DS

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix

ESRB Rating: E10+

 

Hard to believe that in roughly two dozen franchise games, spinoffs, sequels and prequels, Final Fantasy has never had an original Nintendo DS title until now. With Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light, series creator Square Enix compresses the FF world into storybook size, where designer Akihiko Yoshida’s fantastic illustrative work makes the DS-exclusive role-playing game feel bigger, and dreamier, than life.

 

If the art style and platform have you thinking The 4 Heroes Of Light is Final Fantasy Jr., you may want to break the shrink wrap before handing the game to your little sibling. The game offers a world of depth beyond its visuals, with four divergent storylines and multiplayer capability for up to four players (hence the title). The deceptively simple-to-grasp Crown Job System further deepens play, thanks to over 24 unlockable, class-based crowns that let you assign attributes, and even aesthetics, that can boost your character’s chances of making it through the game’s battles and dungeons.

 

 

Combat itself is simple and turn-based, but unless you invest serious time in strategy, you’ll be at a terminal disadvantage against most foes. Luckily, thanks to its long, engaging story and seemingly endless customization scheme, The 4 Heroes Of Light gives you plenty of time to plot your next move-provided you don’t get lost in the details, of course.

Rating: 8/10

Enslaved: Odyssey To The West

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Developer: Ninja Theory / Publisher: Namco Bandai

ESRB Rating: T

 

Although it’s loosely based on the 16th-century Chinese literary classic Journey To The West-as diluted through 400 years of popular reinterpretation-Enslaved: Odyssey To The West takes place 150 years into our own future, in a post-apocalyptic U.S. that’s literally a shell of its former self.

 

Bound together in a journey toward freedom-but really navigating a complicated romantic relationship based on self-interest and subjugation-heroes Monkey (your playable character) and Trip (your tech-smart female counterpart) traverse Enslaved‘s wasteland under constant threat of peril.

 

Peril, of course, translates in this single-player title to tactical gameplay with a ton of awesome, epic battles driven by Monkey’s acrobatic (if simplistic) melee-style attack capability. Indeed, the fighting and level exploration alone would make Enslaved a perfectly great way to kill a weekend. The problem comes when the game gets too hung up on its own storyline.

 

 

Hindered by the medium, and the genre, in which it’s working, screenwriter Alex “28 Days Later” Garland’s script struggles to eclipse the complex, allegorical weight of its source material. Rich (if super-long) cutscenes and terrific voice acting-particularly from Lord Of The RingsAndy “Gollum” Serkis as Monkey-wonderfully draw you into the story, sure. But the story here needs subtlety to shine-and that’s an area where even the greatest game developers, with their understandable need to draw everything back to the action, can only be heavy-handed.

Rating: 7/10

 

File Under: Extras

Level Up Storage Towers

$49.99 and up

 

 

Sure, milk crates and plastic clamps will hold your gaming rig just fine, but if you’re looking for a sleeker way to keep your gear together, Level Up’s storage towers have form and function to match their flair. (See what we did there?) The ZigZag tower for Xbox 360 (pictured; also available in gray) holds four controllers in its molded dock and up to 13 games or DVDs in its tower. You stash your console below the game shelves, in a recessed and ventilated bay that helps to keep components cool, while the hooks on either side of the tower let you keep a pair of Rock Band axes at the ready. Similar models are also available for Wii and PlayStation 2/3 consoles-check out the whole line at Level Up.

 

 

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Our game guru, Aaron Burgess, lives digitally but dreams in analog down in Round Rock, Texas. Contact him at first2letters@gmail.com  / AIM: First2Letters

 

 

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